EMMA Mackie has never been afraid to back herself in. After a successful professional cycling career, Mackie returned to one of her other passions in football and is playing with the Western Bulldogs in AFLW. She spoke to The Border Mail's BRETT KOHLHAGEN this week about her ride of a life-time.
BK: You have been playing AFLW for two seasons with the Western Bulldogs, is it everything you hoped it would be?
EM: I think it's everything I expected it to be. Getting drafted to the Western Bulldogs was an amazing feeling and running out on the Whitten Oval for my first game with my family there was something really special. Being part of an elite program is something I've done before so I kind of knew what to expect, but of course there have been differences from cycling to football.
BK: How demanding is it?
EM: I'd say its highly demanding! For me anyway, as I have to balance family, full-time work and football. Our season is so short and intense so you feel a fair bit of pressure to perform each week. It definitely has its challenges and plenty of hard work but at the end of the day you're playing the highest level of football and when you get the chance to do that it's all worth it.
BK: Is it a big step up from playing with Hawthorn in the VFL?
EM: AFLW is a step up from the VFLW but not a huge one. I've found the VFL just as hard and demanding at times and the talent is definitely improving. Hawthorn run a really elite program too, because they don't have an AFLW team yet they are really putting everything into the VFL program and supporting girls to go on and play AFLW if they get the opportunity.
BK: You have had an interrupted season this year haven't you?
EM: I had a knock to the top of my back and lower neck in the first game. I didn't realise at the time but that night I started to get a few symptoms. The next morning it was worse and the room was spinning. It was quite scary to be honest. I had to go through the whole protocol and I failed the concussion test. I missed the second game and it's carried on a bit with my neck and lower back. I'm wearing a helmet now which is kind of funny because Mum wouldn't let me play footy with the boys at Jindera unless I was wearing a helmet.
BK: Talking about junior football at Jindera, is it sometimes difficult to comprehend how far you have come in the sport?
EM: Yes. I can still remember how much I loved playing football at Jindera. I do think it's funny that I started playing at the Jindera Bulldogs and ended up getting drafted by the Western Bulldogs.
BK: How many other girls were playing back then?
EM: Gosh, not many. I don't think there were any other girls playing in the Hume league. We did have a school team start up at Albury High where we played some of the other high schools and that was fun. I played alongside my sister, Dana, in that competition.
BK: Albury-Wodonga has a big representation in AWFL, do you know any of the other local girls?
EM: I don't know any of the girls personally but I do follow and keep a look out for the girls that are getting drafted into the AFLW from Albury-Wodonga. I think it's great.
BK: Do you think AFLW or women's sport in general receives the recognition it deserves?
EM: No, I think it's getting there but it still has a long way to go. I think we are seeing a change in the way we recognise women's sports and I think it's going in the right direction. We are paving the way at the moment in the AFLW, and I hope one day the girls that are coming through will be full-time athletes getting the recognition they deserve. There is also a noticed increase of female commentators in the AFL and AFLW.
BK: Your brother Joel is a high-profile player in the Ovens and Murray, how valuable has he been to your footy?
EM: It's been great having Joel to talk to whenever I've needed some help or advice on football, such as preparing for finals. I've always followed Joel's football and been very proud of all of his achievements. I'd say I've modeled my game from Joel's game, but I'm older than him so I tend to say Joel got all of his talent from me.
BK: Are you close?
EM: Yes, we were very close growing up as kids because we were only two years apart so we played together a lot. It would be Joel and I going through dad's bag of old football jumpers, putting them on and playing football against each other out in the back paddock on the farm. We were always kicking the footy together, running around and going to watch St Kilda which was our AFL team.
BK: He's played in the last 10 O and M grand finals. How many of them have you seen?
EM: I've nearly seen all of them except for last year when there was a clash and I was playing in my grand final for Hawthorn VFLW at Etihad on the same day. Joel had his final for Albury Tigers in Wangaratta so it was an interesting family discussion about who was going to watch whom. I always try and get home to watch if he's playing in the grand final. I even remember one year Joel was playing in the GF and I was racing in the World Championships in Italy. I was listening to the game and following the score online when I was getting ready to race.
BK: Neither of you take a backward step when it comes to sport, any fiery incidents in the backyard as kids?
EM: Hahaha, there were plenty of fiery incidents as kids. Both of us are very competitive so we always wanted to win. Let's just say neither of us liked to lose.
BK: I believe your grandfather, Keith, was a very good cyclist. Is that why you took up the sport?
EM: Yes, my Poppy Keith was a well-known cyclist. Pop was always a big influence on my cycling and my biggest supporter. I'm so happy he was able to be a part of that with me and watch me race at the start of my career before he passed away.
BK: What was the pinnacle of your cycling career?
EM: Racing over in Europe for eight years was a highlight but actually getting to represent Australia at the 2009 World Championships in Switzerland was one of my biggest achievements.
I don't think there were any other girls playing in the Hume league. We did have a school team start up at Albury High where we played some of the other high schools and that was fun.Emma Mackie
BK: Why did you give it up?
EM: I think I just got to a point where I felt like I'd exhausted all of my ambitions in cycling. I was happy with what I had done and achieved and felt like I was probably not going to go any further in the sport. I was ready to come home and spend more time with my family and friends and not have to travel and live out of a suitcase anymore. I think it was just the right time for me to move on and start something new in my life.
BK: How tough was it with all the travelling and training?
EM: It was tough, but it just becomes a part of you and what you do. On the bike you are training every day, sometimes long hours by yourself but also times where you can train in groups or with your team which is fun. Albury-Wodonga has a great cycling community so I always enjoyed coming home in the off-season for training. My brother-in-law Rhys Pollock is also a well-known cyclist, so he was a huge influence on my cycling. We'd train a lot together when I was home so that was always nice. I actually miss those training rides. The travelling can be tough but it's also pretty amazing. The places I've lived in around the world and traveled to is pretty crazy when I think about it. Going to Italy, Belgium, France, Spain, the US and all-around Australia was pretty incredible
BK: Any really scary moments or big crashes along the way?
EM: A lot. Racing in a peloton of 100-plus riders can be pretty scary. I've been lucky with crashes but I've seen a few and been caught up in a lot. I've just luckily always escaped with fairly minor injuries.
BK: You have an incredibly busy life these days in Melbourne. Tell us how you manage it all?
EM: Busy could be an understatement! My wife and I have just welcomed our son Finn into the world last November so I'm a new parent. I've also just started a new career with the Victorian Police in Melbourne, so juggling all of these things while playing AFLW is very challenging.
BK: I imagine you would need a big support network to cope with day-to-day living?
EM: My family come down a lot from Albury and I have a few relatives in and around Melbourne. I have a lot of work friends and coaches and girls I've played football with here so I'd say I've got a great support network.
BK: What does the future hold in regards to your football?
EM: I'd love to keep going for as long as I can. I'll play for Hawthorn in the VFL this season as it's such a great club. I'll take it from there I guess. Hopefully I can continue to play for another season or two but I'm not too sure how I'll juggle it all with family and work commitments. I'll see how the body holds up too but I'd like to play for another season or two on some platform.
BK: Well done on a great career in two very demanding sports.